By William Hladky, FloridaBulldog.org
A senior property coordinator for Broward County Schools who resigned last month claims district administrators appear to have violated state law by not telling the school board about a bidder that offered to pay a higher price for surplus school land.
Barry Lazarus’s allegations, contained in an email sent to School Board members on Tuesday, mark the second time in three months that a whistleblower has come forward to allege potentially costly misconduct in Superintendent Robert Runcie’s administration.
“If what Mr. Lazarus said is true and it is a violation of the law, it needs to be looked into,” School Board member Nora Rupert said in an interview. “The superintendent needs to (assure)…that his staff is following the law and giving us the tools to govern appropriately.”
The latest allegations involve a multimillion-dollar parcel of vacant land, 11.84 acres, on the southeast corner of Broward Boulevard and Hiatus Road that school administrators wanted to sell to JLB Realty, a development company headquartered in Dallas, Texas.
Lazarus told the School Board that administrators wanted to sell it to JLB for less than another company, Boca Raton-based Altman Companies, had offered. How much less was not disclosed, but Altman’s offer was made in December, after negotiations had begun with JLB.
Hours before receiving Lazarus’s email, the School Board voted to reject an administration proposal to extend negotiations. JLB had sought the extension because Plantation had not yet determined how many rental apartments it would allow to be built on the property. JLB offered to pay the school district $38,500 for each unit built, which depending on the number of units worked out to between $8.2 and $11.4 million.
BID PROCESS TO START OVER
Superintendent Runcie told the board that by not extending negotiations, the district would start the bidding process over.
Lazarus was unaware when he sent the email that the school board had just voted to cease negotiations.
Dennis Palumbo, a realtor who represents Altman, refused to tell FloridaBulldog.org what Altman had offered the school district for the land.
The school district’s public information office did not respond to a request for information about Altman’s offer or to say how each board member voted.
Steven Sockrider, vice-president of JLB, did not respond to requests for comment.
In his email to the Board, Lazarus cited Florida law that requires a real estate licensee to present all offers, counteroffers and “known facts that materially affect the value of…real estate property…in a timely manner” to the client. Specifically, he was critical of his former boss, Christopher Akagbosu, Broward Schools’ director of Facility Planning and Real Estate Department, which handles sales of surplus lands.
“If…Mr. Akagbosu did not present the Altman offer to you, this appears to be a violation of the…statute,” Lazarus wrote the board. “Mr. Akagbosu…had a staff member present at the Altman offer who is purportedly a licensed Florida broker, who should know the law, and should have advised Mr. Akagbosu.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but that is my understanding of the law,” Lazarus said in an interview. “I don’t know if (Akagbosu) is exempt” from the law which governs real estate brokers.
Lazarus, who resigned in March after being on the job for less than 90 days, did not get along with Akagbosu.
Lazarus informed the board in March that Akagbosu’s management style was “unprofessional, dysfunctional and bullying,” adding that neither Akagbosu nor anyone in his department holds any real estate licenses.
“Numerous brokers had called the department and threatened to sue, complaining of bad faith negotiations by stating that Mr. Akagbosu had failed to present all offers to the board on the recent sale of the Broward and Hiatus surplus property,” Lazarus said.
Akagbosu declined comment on Lazarus’s charges and referred questions to the district’s public information office, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Lazarus is a licensed state real estate salesman and a state certified general real estate appraiser whose prior job as real estate administrator for West Palm Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Akagbosu’s LinkedIn page says he has worked for the school district since 1994. He has a Master Degree of Environmental Planning, Land Use and Urban Design and a Bachelor Degree of Science in Design, Urban Planning, both from Arizona State University.
BID RIGGING ALLEGATIONS
Lazarus’s accusations come on the heels of bid rigging allegations leveled by whistleblower Michael Marchetti. Marchetti, who retired in February, has said under oath that Broward school administrators sought to ensure that Jacobs Project Management Company would receive a multi-million dollar contract to manage $800 million in capital projects.
After FloridaBulldog.org began to investigate Marchetti’s allegations, the district administration canceled the proposed contract with Jacobs, announced they would rebid the project.
The school district bought the 11.84 acres that it now wants to sell in 1997 for almost $2 million. The property was to be the site of a new elementary school, but in 2010 the school board decided it was no longer needed and listed the land as surplus. The property has been appraised at $7.2 million, although school documents do not say when the valuation was done and the administration isn’t answering questions
School Board Chairwoman Donna Korn, a commercial real estate leasing agent, raised doubts about continuing the negotiations after Akagbosu and Leslie Brown, the district’s chief portfolio services officer, failed to explain to her satisfaction during Tuesday’s board meeting why they had not considered the “higher per unit price” from the other company and at what point were new bids not accepted.
Although Korn never named Altman as the other company, both Lazarus and Palumbo verified Altman was that company.
“I feel like I am going in a circle and not getting what I am looking for,” Korn told the board. “At this moment some of the information I have doesn’t align with the recommendation in front of us…I know there is a higher per unit price…I just want to make sure we are getting the greatest value for the property…”
Korn did not respond to requests for comment.
Brown told the board that she considers more than price when analyzing an offer. A bidder “may come forward with a slightly higher cost per unit and then maybe the rest (of the offer) may not be equal” to a competing bid, she said.